Where the parties stand after the local elections in Thuringia


Status: 27.05.2024 16:32

For Thuringia, the local elections were seen as an important mood test before the state elections. The AfD was not the only party to fall short of expectations. Five insights into the election.

Around 1.7 million Thuringians were eligible to vote in the local elections on Sunday. With a voter turnout of an expected 62 to 63 percent, interest was greater than in comparable elections in Hesse, Bavaria or Lower Saxony. In the days before, one question dominated the political debate: How strong will the AfD be?

Not all voting districts have been counted yet. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: The party, which is in parts right-wing extremist and classified as definitely extremist in Thuringia, has gained nationwide – and yet the “triumphal march of the AfD” longed for by state leader Björn Höcke has failed to materialize.

AfD trend seems to be changing

The AfD is expected to receive 30 percent or more in six districts and its strongholds Gera and Nordhausen. Such gains were to be expected: When the local elections took place five years ago, the AfD was at 20 percent in nationwide opinion polls; today it is around 30 percent.

Several AfD candidates also made it to the runoff elections for district administrator and mayoral offices. However, this time there were no results of 35 percent or more.

This indicates a reversal of the trend. Just a few months ago, in the district council elections in the Sonneberg and Saale-Orla districts and in the mayoral election in Nordhausen, the AfD candidates were well ahead with more than 40 percent after the first round of voting. In the end, the party at least won the district council office in Sonneberg. However, no more blue district councilors and mayors are likely to be added in Thuringia. The office of prime minister, which Björn Höcke is aiming for, is also moving further away.

In the Thuringian AfD, some blame this on the unrest in the federal party. The AfD recently withdrew its European election candidates Maximilian Krah and Petr Bystron from the election campaign in connection with bribery and espionage allegations.

Parties cannot build firewalls alone

Nevertheless, the AfD is strengthening its local roots in this way. In some places, whether a firewall is in place on sensitive issues such as youth work, clubs, and dealing with migration no longer depends on established parties, but essentially on voter associations.

In the Sonneberg city council, for example, the AfD would have a comfortable majority with ten of 30 seats and the “Pro Sonneberg” association with nine seats. The association, a CDU splinter group, has not yet distanced itself from the AfD.

In the Sonneberg district council, on whose majorities AfD district administrator Robert Sesselmann depends, the AfD won 14 seats and “Pro Sonneberg” five. They only just missed the majority of 21 seats.

Well-known neo-Nazi does not scare voters

Where the AfD is not running, gaps are opening up for even more radical forces. In the district of Hildburghausen, the neo-Nazi Tommy Frenck made it to the runoff election for district administrator. Frenck finished just ahead of the CDU candidate with 24.9 percent. Only Sven Gregor from the Free Voters received more votes. The AfD did not put forward a candidate.

Frenck does not hide his views. He willingly speaks into every television camera and has the word “Aryan” tattooed on his neck. As a restaurateur and cookbook author, he often plays with neo-Nazi codes such as the number 88, an abbreviation for “Heil Hitler”. In 2017, Frenck registered a neo-Nazi concert with 6,000 participants, several of whom gave the Hitler salute.

Although the Thuringian Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been listing Frenck as one of the key players in the neo-Nazi scene for years, he was allowed to stand in the election. And a quarter of voters either seem not to be interested in Frenck’s radical views – or even support them.

It is not Frenck’s first electoral success: he has been a member of the Hildburghausen district council for fifteen years for his voters’ association “Alliance for the Future of Hildburghausen”, which emerged from the NPD.

CDU can stand up to AfD

It was a good evening for the CDU. They were able to defend a few town halls and make a mark. Their candidate in the state capital Erfurt is leading the runoff election against the SPD mayor Andreas Bausewein. In Suhl, the CDU incumbent André Knapp won 82.1 percent. In the rural districts, the majority of CDU representatives made it to the runoff elections for district administrators.

State leader Mario Voigt then spoke of “important decisions”. In the district council, city council and municipal council elections, the CDU was the only party to remain stable – and ahead of the AfD. In the state as a whole, it is therefore the party that can stand up to the AfD. This is exactly the image that Voigt has been relying on for months as the top candidate for the state election.

The Left is not gaining momentum for autumn

The Left Party – already weaker than the CDU in the municipalities – lost again on all levels on Sunday. It will have fewer councillors in the municipal parliaments. Its candidates were also unable to make it into the run-off elections for elected offices. Only in Sömmerda does the left-wing mayor Ralf Hauboldt still have a chance of defending his office against a CDU candidate.

It was characteristic of the election evening that the left’s congratulations were directed primarily at the old and new mayor of Altenburg: André Neumann is a CDU politician and is considered by the party’s state executive committee to be the most open supporter of cooperation with the Left. Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow commented on Neumann’s election victory: “Bravo and we look forward to continued good cooperation.”

This is especially true as Erfurt’s coalition partners, the SPD and the Greens, also suffered losses across the state. The SPD and candidates it supported, however, were able to win several district council and mayoral offices, or made it to the runoff elections. Wagenknecht’s BSW party also gained seats in local parliaments wherever it ran.

None of these developments strengthens the Left Party ahead of the state elections in the fall. On the contrary: the dependence on Bodo Ramelow is once again evident. There is no momentum.

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